Vital Signs

Meistersinger

To an opera lover, a guided excursion through the mysterious world of the opera singer is irresistibly appealing. Are opera singers merely brainless, egotistical voices? Do voice teachers and vocal techniques make a difference? How much do opera singers worry about acting, about musical interpretation of roles? Helena Matheopoulos, author of Divo, is an enthusiastic, generally competent guide, and the tour she provides is fascinating.

The organization is by vocal ranges, which provides continuity between chapters: We discover, for example, why Faust is an easy role for Nicolai Gedda and difficult for Alfredo Kraus; why the Duke of Mantua is a young tenor's role but Radames is dangerous for a young voice; why, of 32 B-flats Radames sings, only one is really difficult; why singing Parsifal could make a tenor lose the voice for Rodolfo.

Rather than simply transcribe interviews, Matheopoulos has written a narrative about each singer, combining biographical material with lengthy quotations from the subjects as well as observations from other members of the operatic world. I am delighted to report that this is not a gossipy book. Biographical details are reported only when they are relevant to the singers' training and development.

Divo is not a "page turner" or even a "good read." It must be read slowly. Balancing reading with listening would help make abstract and possibly...

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